The Q: Publisher-Creator Conflicts, Trend or Status Quo?
It was an unusual last week for comics’ industry watchers. Not only did DC fans find out that the publisher's much touted new Action Comics writer Andy Diggle was leaving the comic after only writing one issue, but the company also had its announced writer for Green Lantern Corps and Red Lanterns, Joshua Hale Fialkov, quit both books.
Why the two fast and surprising exits? Diggle called his motivation "professional reasons," while Fialkov said "there were editorial decisions about the direction of the book that conflicted with the story I was hired to tell."
This isn't the first time fans have seen writers cite "editorial differences" for their departure from a comic within a shared universe at Marvel or DC. But it does seem to be a trend recently — particularly among writers for DC's New 52, from Gail Simone leaving Fury of Firestorm because of "editorial conflicts" to George Pérez saying he "couldn't wait" to get off Superman.
The dissatisfaction among creators hit its most public point when writer/artist Rob Liefeld walked away from three DC comics in August. He revealed that he experienced "last minute" changes in directions that caused rewrites, and he said the pattern became "non-stop." He said it "comes with the game if you accept the assignments."
"The new corporate culture of both companies [DC and Marvel] has never been more stressful because they are in the crosshairs of parent companies," Liefeld said at the time.
So is this a new corporate culture for comics? Is it really different from the way it's always been? Or are writers just expecting more control as their options are seemingly growing?
We asked a variety of creators in the industry and had a few answer us — some anonymously — to comment on whether there really is any culture change afoot, and for those who thought there was, what is its cause.
And while we gleaned a few details regarding the DC-related departures, surprisingly, we heard just as much about a general sense that there's a lack of "faith" and "trust."
The one question we asked:
- Recent developments have pointed toward significant disagreements between freelance creators and editorial. Is this an alarming new trend, something that is inherent in work-for-hire, or just an anecdotal coincidence? What's causing the problems? Is it isolated to one company, or one type of approach? And are there bigger implications for comics overall?
Dan Jurgens (Firestorm, Superman)
In any creative, collaborative field, creative differences will exist.
Comics, of course, are a collaborative field.
We all long for those magical experiences when everyone involved in a project is 100% on board with the idea, moving in the same direction and truly excited about the process of seeing it through to print. When everything clicks to that degree, that book eventually exudes a spirit and vision that touches the reader. When it happens, creating comics could not be more fun.
Work for any amount of time at all in this business, however, and a creator will eventually find himself differing with someone he works with. Writers might well disagree with their editor or management above. They might disagree with their artist, just as artists will often disagree with what their writers give them. It might be as simple as the artist disagreeing with the look of his covers because someone else is drawing them, or even the fact that he or she can't get his favorite designs through because a cover editor might have a different philosophy. Or it might be a penciler who disagrees intently with the inker inking his work or colorist handling his book. The list of possibilities goes on.
The point is, it happens. Always has, always will. Alarming new tend? Hardly. It isn't a crime when it does and doesn't mean that anyone involved is right or wrong or good or bad.
It's nothing more than a difference of opinion. Sometimes, it gets messy.
The trick is to find a solution that satisfies everyone. Occasionally, a creator might be able to push a desired story idea through to publication. Other times, it might be best for the creator to move on and we've all hung over a beer consoling those who were unable to reconcile those differences. Or we've listened to an editor speak with great disappointment and regret of a writer or artist who walked away. I've seen and done all of the above and have no doubt I'll see it again.
After all, unless you own it, write it, draw it, ink it, letter it, color it, print and publish it, this will remain a collaborative medium. With technological advances, geographic separation and other measures, we've adopted a great many ways of working that have actually pushed us away from the idea and spirit of collaboration. Like many things in life, something lost is often difficult or impossible to recapture.
Ron Marz, (Ravine, The Protectors, Green Lantern)
The push-pull between editorial and creators has been going on as long as there have been comics. Editors are supposed to safeguard valuable properties, while creators want creative freedom. The system works when there's compromise and collaboration, and most importantly trust, on both sides. I think it's a cyclical thing. There are periods of more creative freedom and less creative freedom, as publishers exert control over their properties.
I think in the recent past, there's been more editorial control because comic-book properties have proven themselves to be million- and even billion-dollar franchises. Corporate parents understandably want to protect those interests. So individual creators have to decide what parameters are acceptable to them. There's some irony involved, in that these properties sprang from wild creativity in the first place. Now that the properties are valuable, there's a lot more control over that creativity. The marriage of art and commerce is almost never without incident. But like any marriage, trust is what makes it work.
At DC, a trend began to take shape in the wake of the New 52. At first the bold, new direction was welcomed. It allowed many creators to mold and reshape the characters of the DCU, both in the art as well as script. Old habits weren't tolerated, clichés were challenged, and that was a good thing.
Then patterns started where rewrites and new art were being requested, almost entirely without pay. There was an expression that used to be used internally: "combat pay." It meant that if you had work approved and completed, but editorial decided to make a major shift, there was an expectation that you'd be paid for your time. That stopped. Many, many rewrites and redraws were requested.
Top-tier editorial was making decisions, middle-tier editorial (the editors who deal directly with the creators) were ordered to ask for these changes. And changes were made. And then more changes were requested; more rewrites, more redraws. And then even more rewrites and redraws. (As noted, without compensation.)
A new pattern developed. Creators would get overviews approved, scripts would get written, art would be produced, then everything was asked to be redone. It kept happening a lot. It is different for every creator and each book. But that was (and is) the general pattern.
In that, we as creators have lost faith in editorial, simply because they lost faith in us. And it's very challenging to produce good stories like this.
I will say that none of this is coming from a bad place. DC editorial just wants the books to be great. That's the truth. It's not about anything as silly as ego. They just want great books. But the process has become unproductive.
So many creators are leaving.
I debated giving a detailed answer with specific examples, but the short answer is that what's happening at DC right now is an unprecedented clusterf**k of epic proportions. Everyone in the industry knows it and can't really believe what's going on. On the other hand, it doesn't seem like DC is running out of people willing to deal with the bulls**t, and most fans don't seem to care. So more power to 'em.
Everyone was working really hard to make the New 52 great, and it worked. The sales were off the charts. But after that, DC fell into old bad habits. They weren't sure what they wanted. They were asking for multiple rewrites, and with the new tighter deadlines, things were getting so tight for the creative teams that it was difficult to put out your best work. Some people could handle it, but some people couldn't. And some people just started walking away.
Chuck Dixon (G.I. Joe, Batman, Robin)
In some areas of comics we're seeing a more "Hollywood" approach to the creation of material. Where once it was solely the creators tasked with coming up with the story and art, we're now seeing more and more tinkering and second-guessing from editorial and above. There is what amounts to a post-production phase in comics that never existed before. There's less faith in the talent and more adherence to a corporate model and a structural template for comics as there is now in feature film production. The organic process of one or two creators coming up with the stories and images is essentially discouraged in this environment.
The end result has not been consistently higher sales or even comics successful from an aesthetic viewpoint or even simply good reads.
Comic book writers and artists will put up with a lot. But when management starts treating us like tools we wonder why the hell we're doing this. For the best of us, it was never all about the paycheck.
Rob Liefeld, Image Comics co-founder
I have worked in comics for 27 years and I understand the "give and get" that fuels the editorial/ creative process and relationship. It's never been as bad as it has been at DC at this moment in time. That's not an opinion, that's just a fact. It's the reason that so many people are fed up and leaving. If there were more options for the creators you are not hearing from, they'd be gone as well. I worked at Marvel from 2004-2011, did a wide variety of projects and covers, I made the leap to DC out of a desire to change the scenery. I was in the middle of another Deadpool project when the lure of DC became too great to resist. I was asked to do Hawk and Dove back in the summer of 2010, when it was going to spin off of Brightest Day, before the New 52 was a thing. My time at DC was the most fascinating time I'd ever experienced in comics.
At one point I found myself guiding four books simultaneously, Hawkman, Deathstroke, Hawk and Dove, and Grifter, in case you'd forgotten. This was only a year ago, so it's still fresh and should remind everyone that I had a seat at the table. It was a seat at the kid's table, but just as a kid overhears the adults talking at the big boy table at Thanksgiving, I overheard enough to know that the dysfunction at this company runs deep.
Let's not pretend this is a Marvel problem, it's not. I'm not aware of the amount of people walking off books at Marvel. This is a DC issue. Image creators are running free and wild, experiencing some of the biggest successes that Image has seen in years. Marvel creators are energized and engaged in a way I haven't seen in a long while and DC is trying to figure out how the energy of those first few months of the new 52 got away from them so fast.
From my experience, I was asked to "revive the patient", increase sales on books that had lost 70% of their audience in a four-month window, and the pressure was daily. DC's mid-tier is a thorn in their side, they know it and they want it to be stronger. The pressure to compete with Marvel is enormous. DC tasted the nectar of dominant sales in those early months of the 52, they want to be on top, this is why the cracks are so visible. Batman is their most reliable weapon and they are expanding the character to a breaking point in order to generate better sales and market share. The rest of their catalogue that does not feature Batman is a difficult sell to the public so everything is scrutinized in order to maximize sales potential. That kind of pressure is debilitating, crushing, maddening. DC doesn't want to tell the best story, they want the story that sells the best and that kind of pressure will make people pop.
As a creator you are hired to come up with a compelling storyline that clears editorial approval. Once approved you build on that storyline to generate the energy and direction of your book. If that storyline is repeatedly stopped and changed to accommodate changes put forth from marketing and licensing and the whims of the chief, momentum is stalled and frustration mounts and creators leave. I had an editor write out a story that he wanted me to tell, a story that went against the directive and approval of the editor-in-chief and the executive editor, I pushed back saying this is not what was approved, we took it to the higher ups to settle. His story took place on the alien planet of the characters birth, and we were both informed that the character would no longer be an alien and everything had to be scrapped. My story as well as my editor's story were both no longer viable. This was in the span of two weeks from meeting, approval, editor change to his story to everything about the lead character had to be scrapped. Huh? Yep, that's the way it's been going. And you wonder why people are fed up.
Be reminded that this is the Disney/Time Warner era, those are the masters being served here. The two biggest dogs in entertainment have dueling comic catalogues and one is out-distancing the other with the other running to catch up.
It has to get better and it will. Superman will perform spectacularly giving DC and Time Warner the second franchise that they hoped the Green Lantern film would have provided. They need more ammo and this will go a long way. Things will relax somewhat giving them another rallying point " Look, we are more than Batman!!" Finally.
Credit where credit is due, the launch of the 52 exceeded all expectations and the Before Watchmen campaign was a marketing and sales coupe, bolstering the bottom line and temporarily hiding the falling 52 numbers. Batman is a monster and that's not going to change in this lifetime. So expect more Batman, maybe even from 1966....oh, that's happening.
I speak the truth because I don't fear ramifications, I'm not angling for another gig, there is no recourse. And after all, it's just comics right?
John Rogers (Blue Beetle , Dungeons & Dragons, Leverage)
I don't think it's a new, higher number of creative differences. I think it's indicative of how the writer/creator market has changed. They have value, real value, when there's not a lot of brand innovation being done. Creators are now far more comfortable going off and creating their own IP or working for another company.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!